Selfless Ferns Drive Eligibility Change
It is about to become harder than ever to make the Kiwi Ferns, and it's being hailed as a game changer for women's rugby league in New Zealand.
For the first time in history the New Zealand Rugby League has adjusted its eligibility rules for the national women's team, opening World Cup spots to Australia-based players.
The change was mooted and encouraged by the current playing group, which coach Tony Benson told NRL.com speaks volumes about their team-first approach.
"It is a positive for sure, it was pushed by the players and staff because times are changing and the game is a lot more global than it used to be," Benson said.
"They are certainly not selfish people… they think equally about Kiwi women who have gone to live in Australia, and the players here would want that opportunity for themselves if they were there too.
"They don't know how many good girls are over there and what positions they are in, so it's a risk for them. They know they have got to be the best they can be to get their spot, which is a great situation for New Zealand league really."
Benson said at this stage there are 15-20 players in Australia who are in contention for spots at the end-of-year tournament, with the group being overseen by his Kiwi Ferns assistant Jason Stanton, who is the head coach of the Cronulla Sharks women's team.
"They are going to mirror our trainings that we do over here and we will then thin it down and bring over the ones we think are going to make it to trial," Benson said.
"Obviously to invest in them we have got to know that they are better than what we have got here, or at least can compete with the ladies we have got here.
"We are not only looking at the World Cup, but going forward as well, there are some young girls who might not be ready for this tournament but for the future."
For train-on squad member Shontelle Woodman, the rule change also gives her the unique opportunity to fulfil her World Cup dream alongside twin sister Sharnita, who plays for Mounties in New South Wales.
"It would be very good to get Sharnita and the likes of Rona Peters (a Kiwi Fern back in 2014) back, they are two strong players who would help," Woodman said.
"There are also a number of other players who are over there playing well, so it will be good to see them all back in the environment.
"I think it's a good thing, there's no room for complacency, any position is up for grabs.
"Having players over there who are unknown, that's a bit scary, so it's making people work harder."
Meanwhile the Kiwi Ferns have announced a pre-tournament clash against the New Zealand Maori women's team at Waikato Stadium on Saturday, November 4.
The fixture will serve as a curtain-raiser to the men's World Cup match between Samoa and Tonga.
This article first appeared on NRL.com